Where, you might ask, am I staying in Bangkok? The simple answer to that is Phiman Riverview Guesthouse! But who wants a simple answer?
Off the beaten path, but right near the "backpacker zone" of Bangkok, Phiman Riverview is a convenient and interesting place. It's down a winding alley on a street called Samsen Soi 5, where plenty of dogs, cats, and chickens roam. As someone who has booked an entire month there, I am by far, the guesthouse's most permanent resident! Most people only stick around for a night or two; sometimes they stay an entire week. However, it seems that I'm the only backpacker taking my sweet time at Phiman; I get to meet a LOT of people.
For starters, the location is great. I'm within walking distance of hundreds of street vendors and restaurants, dozens of temples, and the backpacker-friendly Khao San Road. It is in the Banglamphu section of Bangkok, an area which is far less "modern" than some other parts of the city. As a result, it's poorer, cheaper, and dirtier, yet also feels more like "authentic" Thailand.
As you have probably guessed by the name "Phiman RIVERview," the guesthouse is located alongside a river. It's beautiful at night, when you can't see the garbage floating in it. Cambodian workers have been building a wall alongside it since I arrived; the construction can get pretty loud during the day. To get to other parts of Bangkok, I often catch ferries from a dock alongside the river, perhaps a fifteen minute walk from the guesthouse. Price to ride a boat as far as you want? 40 cents.
Jane, the guesthouse owner, is really friendly and helpful. On my second day here, she moved me to a room with a private bathroom/shower stall, even though I had booked one with a shared bathroom. This was done because of the length of my reservation. It has made my stay SO much easier, as walking outside at 1:00 in the morning to use the bathroom or shower is never fun. Jane also throws barbecues every few days, where the guests all get to chip in money and have a communal dinner. For example, about a week ago, each of us ate an entire fish. It was wonderful!
The prolific number of residents is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, I get to meet dozens of people, from different countries and walks of life. On the other hand, nobody stays around for very long. It's nice to meet people, but sad when they have to leave so soon. I have truly made some great friends already, learned about other countries and cultures, and had some fantastic musical jam sessions.
My accommodations are meager, especially compared to what I'm used to back in the States. However, Phiman Riverview Guesthoues has a ton of charm and personality, and plenty of friendly people. The only real complaint I have is the insane number of mosquitoes. I've been bitten probably dozens of times, even though I (occasionally) use the provided mosquito netting.
The pros outweigh the cons by a landslide. I'll remember the Banglamphu area and the Phiman Riverview Guesthouse long after I depart!
Three new countries, Belgium, South Africa and Sweden have been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 23!
Before I begin, just know that this article is not about "how to meditate." I know very little about meditation, and pretty much learned to do it from online articles. Such articles are plentiful, and I urge you to check them out. Instead, this article is about my personal experience with meditation, and the benefits one can get out of it. Many of you have probably meditated before, so I don't really need to extol its virtues. However, I want to share my personal story, because it was so powerful. I see it as ultimately having a positive effect on my life.
Something like 95% of Thai people are Buddhist, making Thailand the perfect place to "get in the zone." I left the temple today feeling more refreshed, level-headed, and comfortable than I have felt in months. The air was fresher, food tasted better, and my actions felt more relaxed. When I stepped outside, I realized just how fast my brain usually runs, jumping from thought to thought in an unhelpful frenzy.
When caught up in the everyday stresses of life, we tend to go into autopilot mode. Sometimes our mind tenses up and just plows through whatever task is at hand. We either get tunnel vision or over-analyze situations, both of which stop us from seeing the world as it is. Unfortunately, this can make us forget about the small pleasures life has to offer, and takes us far away from the joy of sensory experience.
Here is where meditation comes in, the beautiful antidote we've created to relax the mind and heighten the senses. By giving your mind permission to calm down, you are doing yourself a big favor. Frantic thoughts, the stressors of the mind, are allowed to roam free. When you accept, instead of fight your usual thought pattern, you take away power from negative thoughts. When thoughts have no power, they cannot cause stress. And without stress, you become clear-headed. Now you can begin taking in the world around you, one glorious sense at a time!
If you've never meditated before, and perhaps don't understand any of what I just wrote, that's okay; I find meditation very hard to describe. However, do it properly, and it will put you in a unique mindset, one you are not likely to forget.
Although I have meditated a few times in the past, it's never been easier than today's session was. I give credit to my environment. There are literally hundreds of Monks walking through the streets of Bangkok, and dozens of temples to visit. I find it so much easier to meditate inside a temple, where everyone is in the same, relaxed mentality. You don't need to become a Monk or Buddhist to meditate. It is more of a mindset than it is a religious practice, and can be beneficial to those of any religion (or lack thereof). I consider myself to be quite irreligious, but still see benefit in the practice of meditation. Not to mention, there have been numerous studies lauding its effects on mental and physical well-being.
After today's session, I've decided to turn meditation into a regular habit. It looks like I've come to the right place!
If you take a look at the website's left sidebar, you'll see a new page, entitled "Nationalities I've Met." I've been keeping track of how many different nationalities I have come across during my travels. Every time I meet a person from a new country, his/her country will be added to the flag gallery. So far, I have met at least one person from:
Cambodia, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand (obviously!), The United Kingdom, and The United States.
This was just during my first two weeks abroad. I hope to meet many many more.
Travel brings you in contact with a lot of people you would not have otherwise met. It exposes one to brand new cultures, languages, and ideals. By keeping track of the nationalities I meet, I hope to reveal just how many differences and similarities we all have, and affirm that the world is just one big, colorful melting pot.
Thai food is renowned for being cheap, plentiful, and (best of all) delicious. Well, I can certainly back up all three of those claims, as they happen to be true!
If you were to order a plate of Pad Thai from an American Thai restaurant, you'd be paying anywhere from $5-10 for a plate, maybe even more! On Khao San road, the "backpacker's ghetto" of Bangkok, prices range from $1-2, depending on what you'd like in it. Chicken or shrimp tends to cost a few cents extra, as do side dishes. Just the other day, I ordered a big plate of Pad Thai and three spring rolls, cooked right in front of me, for roughly $1.85! I had enough food for dinner that night, plus enough leftover for breakfast the next morning. Thailand is a perfect destination for budget travelers; you can eat three square meals a day for the price of one.
Now don't get me wrong; I looove Pad Thai. But you don't need to eat it every meal of every day. There are so many dishes around here, you could feasibly eat something new at every meal. I often eat meals at a local restaurant down the street, and usually just pick something random off the menu. There is so much variety here. Want a breakfast of pancakes with honey, mango, and banana? Sure. Lunch of fried chicken and rice with basil? Check. For dinner, a dish that you've never heard of? You bet!
If you head down to Khao San road, you'll have even more choices. Competition is rampant because of the sheer quantity of backpackers. It's certainly home to some of the more exotic dishes, such as deep friend insects. Why, just the other day, I challenged myself to eat a scorpion. Sounds disgusting, until you have a couple of Chang beers in you!
If you hear about the prices and think "you get what you pay for," you're wrong. My first meal in Thailand was a nondescript bag of chicken and rice, and wow! It was like an explosion had gone off in my mouth. It took eating Thai food for me to realize how bland some American food can be. Thai people have spice use down to a science; every bite is a majestic symphony of flavor. Is that enough hyperbole for you?
Another great thing about the food is how fresh everything is. You can rest assured that your fruits, vegetables, and meat were recently picked and slaughtered. I have yet to see a freezer anywhere, and plants, fish, and chickens are abundant.
On a side note it's moderately easy to practice a vegetarian lifestyle here. Back in the States, I keep a mostly vegetarian diet, but opted to lose it for my trip. There is actually a large amount of chicken and seafood here, so keep that in mind if you ever want to travel to Thailand. However, there are certainly enough meat-free dishes here if you do want/need to eat a restricted diet.
Come on out and have a bite! We can share some scorpions or something.
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write movies and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.